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The Aids Memorial

Books, Letters : To Mum with love and a poet’s ear for drollery

Par Rachel Cooke - 5 mn

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Philip Larkin in 1979. ‘He was ever uncertain. Ambivalence was stamped on his character like a postmark.’ Photograph by Jane Bown for the Observer

Larkin’s sweetly sad dispatches, mostly addressed to his mother, reek of social history, and reveal a witty, wise and grossly impractical man

Letters Home 1936- 1977
Philip Larkin (edited by James Booth)
Faber, £40, pp688

Sometimes, you have to wonder about the guardians of Philip Larkin’s legacy. Deep inside James Booth’s selection of the letters the poet wrote to his family between 1936 and 1977 can be found what is surely one of the weirdest photographs ever to appear between scholarly hard covers. Comprising three pairs of tatty socks – one lilac, one salmon, one navy blue – this motley selection of hosiery, the caption informs us, was “recovered” from the poet’s house in Hull following the death of his girlfriend, Monica Jones , in 2004 (oh, that word, “recovered”: what derring-do it implies). There then follows, by way of an e...